Landlord 101 – Screening Tenants

October 5th, 2010 · 7 Comments · Rental Property

Screening tenants is not easy for landlords. Practice definitely helps. If you have just a couple properties that you’ll rent out every few years, it’s not easy to get good at screening. This is the same as any skill practice makes perfect.

How to do a Tenant Credit Check

You need an application and you need to do a credit check. I recommend Tenant Verification Services because they have no annual membership fee and a pretty simple process to get started. This is only one part of the screening process.

Tenant Evaluation

The credit check is the last part of the equation… a smart landlord has already screened out a large number of applicants from the very beginning. From start to finish you need to consider the entire process


For instance, in your initial ads you may have said No Smoking or No Pets. You may have tried to use language in your ads that attract a certain kind of tenant, that you think might be more suitable for your property. Even the price point of your apartment will screen out people.

Initial Phone Contact

The important part of the tenant screening process is that it is so much more than the application and credit. How do they answer the phone? A polite Hello? or YO Dude? If they left a message was it polite? Did they sound stoned or drunk? When you call back are what is their message like? Is it two minutes of the latest rap tune at high volume then a beep? As you can see there’s a lot of information to be gleaned long before you even go to meet your potential tenant.

Questions to ask during the Initial Phone Contact

  1. When do you need the place?
  2. How many people?
  3. Where do you work?
  4. Why are you moving?

My preference is to be chatty with people, and get as much information about them as possible without interrogating them. If they’ve got a hard luck story this is where the stories begin. Take a pass on people who dump their sorry life story on you, or you’re the one who will be sorry. It’s manipulation and inappropriate boundary crossing behavior.

Showing The Property

The property showing is just an extension of the “interview” started during the initial phone conversation. Again you’ll want to ask leading open ended questions to find out what kind of people they are. Are they nice, kind, formal, fussy? You’re going to be living with them for the next few years, you’d better make sure you’ll like them well enough to get along.

Use Common Sense

Make sure that the information you get is seamless and consistent. Don’t get sucked into hard luck or too good to be true stories. I had a couple apply one time for a property and they told me that the wife had given the husband her kidney. I thought to myself what are the odds of that happening? Then I checked Google News Archives to see if this miraculous surgery hit the papers. It turned out it hadn’t so I gave them their deposit back. When they came to pick up the deposit they had like 9 people crammed into their car, I sure was grateful I didn’t rent to them.

Final Thought – Trust but Verify !

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7 Comments so far ↓

  • DavidV

    Are you allowed to advertise no smoking or no pets? I was told no.

  • Rachelle

    Sure you can advertise no smoking or no pets.

    The issue I find with pets is that by advertising no pets you scare away the responsible pet owners and the pet owners that know that pets are an unenforceable lease clause (but who don’t respect your wishes/boundaries) move in anywhere they like. So you’re kind of missing out on the best pet owners.

    You can definitely legally advertise these in your ads.

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  • Alex

    Do you recommend a credit check for every shortlisted tenant?
    I have only felt the need to do so once, as the person was self employed and no income verification was possible. It paid off in this case as the check red flagged them but otherwise have had good luck twice before. Reviewing pay stubs and verifying employment has so far worked. One couple informed me of a divorce and provided notice to break the lease early but I did not fight them regarding the early departure, I was able to tenant again right away and while the new tenants have been late no payments have yet been missed.
    Am I just lucky so far?

  • L

    Some tenants want to supply their own report – due to worries of having no credit history (new to canada), or trying to avoid lowering their credit score (would them applying to multiple rental listings) affect their score?

    • Rachelle

      Yes it would, multiple inquiries over a number of days would definitely damage a score. But unless you run the credit check yourself, you can’t be 100% it hasn’t been messed with.